There are more leaders in this picture than your average boardroom!

I had a great response to this post the other day, discussing the leadership question. Thats is, are great leaders born rather than made? The analogy I used was of the sporting star. I think its fair to say, few of us would consider ourselves able to compete at the very top of the professional sporting ranks, no matter how much practice and training we decide to put in. Yet, it seems, we are sold training schemes and self-help books designed to help us become a ‘great’ or a real leader, and we wholeheartedly throw ourselves into it!

It seems we think climbing to the very top of the business tree so to speak, is well within our grasp. With only the acquisition of an MBA standing in our way to greatness.

Most of us felt, according to the discussion that took place, that on the one hand, everyone is capable of becoming a great leader. This point was confused though by a feeling that on the other hand, it did take a certain something to be activated before that could happen.

In other words the potential leader needs that certain something before they can become great at leading some one, a team or an organisation – therefore only a select amount of people are capable of doing it? I can buy that, I think it agrees with my own perspective. Whatever, along the way there were a number of other great points made too.

Not least the point made by Barbara Chidgey, a regular contributor on these pages. She says there are many unheralded leaders all over the place. Just because a leader isn’t in the public eye, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t brilliant at what they do. And the converse is also the case. Just because a leader is in the public eye, that doesn’t make them great either!

You’ll soon be able to read more about Barbara’s views on leadership as she agreed to do a guest post on this blog – and will be starting her very own blog soon too. She will be a must read I think.

Also extremely interesting was the way a lot of people re framed the question. Is this simply another example of people’s realities matching their perceptions? In a lot of cases, I don’t think the question was therefore answered, rather, it tended to be re posed in this form: What is a REAL leader anyway? What makes a leader great in the first place.

Now this is a very interesting question isn’t it?

In fact this whole debate has reminded me of a very popular post I wrote some months back about the difference between Marketing and Selling. I think there are as many opinions on that as there are Marketers and Sellers! And this topic seems to have the same inflammatory effect.

Well, here is my opinion, for what its worth…

There has clearly been a huge amount of thinking about leadership. There is A LOT of information on this topic as you might well imagine. For instance according to Wikipedia, and its description of leadership ‘trait’ theory (the things great leaders must have as part of their make up) we should consider a leaders: Intelligence, adjustment, extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience and general self – efficacy.

The same article also lists some leadership styles: Autocratic or authoritarian style, the participation or democratic style, the Laissez-faire or free rein style, the narcissistic style or even toxic leadership (that one sounds a bundle of laughs!)

This is the tiniest example of whats out there so its very easy to get confused over what we consider to be ‘good’ or a real leader. This article, on the website www.entrepreur.com, chosen at random after a quick google search on the subject, insists great leaders have vision, passion, are great decision makers, and are great team builders, they’ll also have character. And so it goes, with opinion and debate and books and articles where ever you may cast your eye. All designed to tantalise us with our own potential maybe?

In fact it seems that we confuse being able to observe something with the ability to learn it. Or teach it for that matter. A bit like the expert 60 year old football coach observing what his English Premier League team is doing well, and not so well. Teaching them how to do things better even. Then pulling on his boots when his star striker is injured.

For me, there is one simple quality that defines great leadership, real leadership if you will. And that’s getting results. As Guy Kawasaki once said about Steve Jobs, ‘Real CEOs ship!’ He means real leaders get their products to market, real leaders win.

Great leaders have impact. Thanks again to Barbara for that term. Great leaders get the job done. Whether that’s a formal P+L responsibility to shareholders, or a Parent bringing up a child. The head of a charity pulling all its disparate volunteers together into a cohesive and productive team, or a teacher opening the eyes of a classroom to great literature. All great leaders have impact! They create results.

They pick (or are given) a target, and they take the resources available to them, those obvious and hidden, and they make things happen.

How many leaders of today have your respect? Is it because, ultimately, they get the job done? And if they don’t have your respect, is it because they don’t get the job done?

For me its simple. Real leaders get results, anyone else is playing at it.

Big and small, famous or invisible, great leaders win. And I think you either have that ability or you don’t. You’re born with it or you’re not. It’s as simple as that. And no amount of training, or practice can put in what God left out.

But I’ve been wrong before! Once again, and as always, please let me know what you think in the comments below, or on the Facebook page. You can tweet me @radiojaja, or even email me on tony.dowling@realradio.co.uk I’d love to hear from you!

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12 thoughts on “What is a REAL leader?

  1. Interesting and loads of valid points, great leaders to get results but an interesting addition to this is a term which is red hot in social media at the moment and that’s influence.
    The real great leaders I have worked for have influenced me, helped me see a way through difficult problems and challenges by steering me (although supertanker like if i didn’t buy into it) through. They helped me get where I wanted or needed to be by helping me use what I had to get the job done.
    What makes people influential that’s your next post Tony!

    1. I’ll tell you what Nick, thats covered, from a social media point of view, brilliantly by Mark Schaefers book Return on Influence. I couldn’t get near that level! 🙂 And thanks for the comment.
      I know from personal experience what that ‘super tanker’ effect looks like close up!

  2. I vote for results… As a broadcaster of 25 yrs in one of the most competitive radio markets in the world (where I live 400K people 18 radio stations with an 16-18% share for radio UK 2-4% USA 6%) I have witnessed results of two leaders I have been in business with for 20 years.

    One created the enviroment, the other implemented. Both leaders. Leaders in my opinion need an implementer and believer to help them get those results. In our industry we are measured by results every month in fact.

    Great debate Tony… I measure my leaders by the folk around them and results.

    1. Thanks Mike! I like that, a believer and an implementer! Also I like what you said about measuring the leader by the people around them too. Its a great point.

  3. Thanks Tony for this one! Influencing and persuading are certainly part of the tool-kit of real leaders – after all as Mike says there’s no impact or implementation without others getting on board with the vision and “aspired – to” goals and collectively making it all actually happen.

    Personally I think real leaders also get the value of “it’s not about me” which is why the people or team they put together also indicate the kind of leader that they are. Good people, sharing same values and buying into the vision (whatever that is – sales, imparting knowledge …) with an enthusiasm / commitment to make that vision a reality (i.e. to implement).

    1. Hi Barbara, glad you like it! And once again another great point, the ‘it’s not about me mentality’ is often there isn’t it. Thanks as ever for you input 🙂

  4. A real leader is that person who knows how to achieve the company’s goals, or at least he tries, responsible, honest, mature, fair-minded. At Toronto strategy consultant camp, I’ve learned that a leader must communicate a lot with others for a good working environment and so on!

  5. Really enjoyed the post!

    Communications strikes me as being key, and tying in with all sorts of other ideas like influencing, engaging people, and having impact. It also takes me back to where you started.

    We all learn to communicate by a series of fairly random inputs – family and life experiences. And not all of our innate talents or life experiences fit us for the communication required to lead. We’re not all born communicators, but we can all learn to communicate more clearly and with more impact.

    I think it was the Dean of Harvard Nitin Nohria who said, ‘Communication is the real work of leadership.’

    1. Hey Karen! I love that, great insight. Communication is a whole other blog, its such a fascinating topic. Thank you for taking the time to join in.

      Here is a question for you, are all leaders great communicators, and if so, are they naturally great? If as you say, not everyone is born with that ability, is that the differentiator? Is that why some can, and some can’t do you think?

  6. I am with Keith Grint on leadership, he suggested “leadership is the property and consequence of a community”. Successful leadership is different in the public sector to leadership in manufacturing, to leadership in construction from leadership in the Royal Navy. Obviously there is some commonality of skills, competences and knowledge but without a deep appreciation of context leaders are unlikely to be successful.

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